Although our friendship only lasted for a few years because he stubbornly went ahead and died aged fifty-four, a chance meeting at work brought Richard into our lives and has left both Kimberley and me with untold happy memories. It was the kind of relationship that offered support when most needed, tendered really sensible advice, wasn’t afraid to be honest when necessary, generated a lot of mutual laughter, and is really in a class of its own. In one of the conversations that helps when I’m feeling down, Richard said he would always remember me for my sense of humour, ‘fantastic’ eyes, and memory of an elephant. He also remarked from time to time that I had balls of steel. This of course led to rounds of jokes based largely on bad puns and not the suggestive humour one may imagine. Brass monkeys featured and are just an example of the way our conversations unearthed fascinating trivia.
A recent chance remark brought back memories of an unrelated conversation which I sometimes marvel at undertaking and would undoubtedly have led Richard to reaffirm his opinion.
In the time before wedded bliss turned to wedded mis, we had a crazy half-Siamese cat named Wally. His time with us was also limited but, to this day, we have no explanation for his disappearance. One night he was with us as we stood in the driveway seeing off some visitors, then we never saw him again. There were few stones left unturned in trying to find out where he was. For years afterwards I would follow up on vague leads in the hope of recovering him.
On one of these occasions I loaded up a thoroughly deceased Siamese lying on the side of Murray Road and drove him to our long-suffering vet*. Apart from the body being stiff, there was a red maggoty kind of centipede cavorting in one of its eye sockets. This was about two years after Wally left. The body I took to the vet had much fainter points than Wally and I really needed to know if death could cause pigmentation to fade. Needless to say, it was next to impossible for the vet to say with any certainty whether or not this could have been our cat. But I did succeed in grossing him out, as a remark overheard by chance on my way out indicated.
The conversation which I am certain Richard would have enjoyed was the result of another sighting. A lady phoned from a neighbouring suburb in response to one of our many posters and advertisements. She was attempting to catch a stray cat in her area. The real catch in this story is that the wily cat was proving to be extremely elusive and the only identifying feature she could give me was that in the faint light of her torch he had discernibly huge testicles, visible on each occasion as he disappeared over her garden wall.
My dad tends to think I’m too independent for my own good but life events have taught me that if something needs to be done I might as well get on with it myself – so sometimes I just take a deep breath and get the ball rolling before I get cold feet. If there really are such things as premonitions our vet would have left Pietermaritzburg many years earlier than he eventually did.
Having dialled the number and been put through to him I had to say something, but in those days still had something approaching sensibilities. Time and experience has long put paid to that luxury. The monologue ran something along the lines of “We brought our Siamese cat to you to be neutered a few years ago. As you know, he is missing but a lady has seen one she thinks may be him. The problem is that she has only seen him at night and can only identify him by big body parts. Um. Um. When you neutered him, did you actually remove pieces or just severe the connection? Could they have grown back?” I don’t often have a wish to be something insect-like, particularly not a fly, but on this occasion I wouldn’t have objected to finding myself lurking on the vet’s office wall. While his exact answer is beyond recall, the words were to the effect that it was not our cat. His voice was rather indistinct.
* If you are anything more than remotely acquaintanted with us, you will understand my long-standing joke that over the years I have paid for a large part of our vet’s Land Rover.